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If god wants everybody to be Christian and the Bible is the central text of Christianity, what were people supposed to do before it was completed, much less started?

Also, is there anything on record speaking to reasons why the particular era that the Bible was written was chosen (specifically OT)? It was a gradual roll-out, so were there parts that weren't needed until they came up, or did they perhaps correlate to certain events?

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The entire old testament was available and written before Jesus' time. The new testament, as we have it is the collected writings of the apostles. Before all the writings were complete, the apostles taught directly. After their death, their immediate successors taught what they had learned and during that time the writings were collected, copied and distributed.

Creeds and hymns formed a big part of conveying biblical doctrine before a printed bible was widely available to all, as did the church teaching and structure. The documents themselves were available to clergy from very early times, soon after the apostolic day.

So at first, there was the testimony of direct witnesses. Then there was teaching from those taught by the apostles and the apostles written records. Finally those records were compiled into the bible, and between the mid 300s and late 600s AD the canon of authoritative scripture was considered closed by most traditions, although the Catholic church did not formally declare the bible canons closed until the council of Trent in 1546 with the only disagreement with other traditions being the OT deuterocanonical books (and bear in mind, too, that the Catholic church (and perhaps others), holds to a continued revelation through the church's magisterial office and authority).

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By 419, at the Councils of Carthage, the NT canon was closed, though it was probably complete before that, but not by 600AD. –  James Black Oct 1 '11 at 0:28
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The word "incomplete" in your question implies that the Bible today is the complete word of God, that we have a closed canon. I've written about that elsewhere; it's really bad theology, and a concept that historically has always been associated with apostate groups, not with God's true disciples.

Once you understand that, the rest of the question is simple to answer, by breaking it down into its parts:

  • We turn to the Bible today to find God's word and his will for us.
  • The writings in the Bible that contain God's word and his will were given by prophets and apostles, with new teachings and concepts being given when they were needed.
  • So where did people turn in ancient times when they needed to know God's will and existing scriptures did not suffice? To the currently-living prophets and apostles, of course.
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Were there legitimate prophets and apostles that predate the Old Testament? If so, why didn't their contributions make the Bible? –  Samuel Hulick Oct 1 '11 at 5:44
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You really need to identify that this answer represents LDS theology. Basically you just lumped many if not most Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians together as "apostate". If you want to make a case to defend the LDS view that is welcome, just please don't try to pawn it off as orthodox theology. –  Caleb Oct 1 '11 at 7:11
    
@Samuel: The OT narrative picks up with God speaking to Adam and continues to record an outline of his dealings with men whether through prophets or other means. I'm not sure how anything could be expected to predate that :-) –  Caleb Oct 1 '11 at 7:16
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@MasonWheeler - The Canon of the NT was closed basically with the death of the last Apostle of Christ that physically knew him, as that means that the people that knew Jesus, and wrote down what he said and did is complete. That doesn't mean that revelation stops, but any new revelations will need to be compared to the written word of God and to the teachings of those from the very early church. So there won't be any modern (ie later than 100AD) books added to the canon. –  James Black Oct 1 '11 at 17:03
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@MasonWheeler - Paul was unique amongst the Apostles in his experience that led to his conversion, meeting Jesus after his death, and being blinded. So, he did meet Jesus, but not while he was walking around physically, but anything Paul said that violated Jesus' teachings would be contradicted by those still alive that did know Jesus. –  James Black Oct 2 '11 at 2:59
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Though the Bible was nonexistent immediately after Jesus died, and it was decades before all the books we now have were written, the early church was following the teachings of Christ, as taught not only by Jesus to the Apostles, but also passed on by other disciples of Christ.

The idea of only using the Bible as the source of Christ's teachings is not supported by the Bible.

For example, the teachings that were passed on orally were supported here:

2 Thessalonians 2:15 New International Version (NIV) 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[a] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

All Scripture does not mean just the Bible, as the Bible wasn't written yet, though some parts were, so this must also mean the oral teachings, which the Roman Catholic Church refers to as Sacred Tradition.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 New International Version (NIV) 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

And for more on whether we should follow Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture or both: http://www.cfpeople.org/Apologetics/page51a031.html

What is interesting is that the early church had many writings to refer to, many of which we don't include as being inspired, but it is assumed that many people felt they were worth keeping, as they survived over the centuries.

For a good list of these books you can look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament_apocrypha.

Also, I don't know if God wants everyone to be Christian, but for all to have a relationship with Him and with others, as He commanded. If we focus more on religion and listen to what our ministers tell us, instead of listening to God and following His commandments, then any miracles they may have done, anything they did to appear righteous is for naught. You can look at 1 Cor 13 and this:

Matthew 7:21-23
New International Version (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

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